white lies

I’ve told myself three lies this week.

First, I tried to convince myself that Facebook is not a place where I “get into things”. It is not a world to take seriously. No one posts something that changes anyone’s mind anyhow. And I conveniently tell myself that this is why I don’t repost that meme. Or I don’t share that link. It’s because I don’t take Facebook that seriously.

But the truth is…I take it seriously when I feel that I am about to share something that people might resonate with. That I’m going to say something that might make people feel less alone. I share my writing when I’ve been stirred by Spirit or Heartache or Humanity. Mostly I share pictures of my family because I live 3000+ miles away and I know it makes some people’s days.

And the deeper, uglier truth is…I do this for the comfortable, white world in which I live. I do it when it won’t rock the boat. I do it when I either believe so strongly in the message that I am willing to brave the conflict (which is very VERY infrequently). And mostly I do it when I know my message is palatable, pretty, tied up in a bow. A gummy vitamin. Not a giant, stinky horse pill.

Here’s another thing I’ve told myself – that I won’t say it right. Because I’ve read the articles and admonitions – the ones that start out Dear White Lady and Don’t say ______ and It’s not about you. And I’m so aware of this and I feel so much shame about this (And I KNOW that it’s not about me…but everything ends up about me. This is me…saying me stuff…about me…and I haven’t shut up yet and listened. I know! I suck at this…)

But the truth is…saying nothing is worse than saying something rather badly. I learned this when I struggled to talk to and about my niece who was once my nephew. I was paralyzed with fear of using the wrong pronoun. I kept messing it up. I asked my sister what I should do…and she simply said, “Just try your best and then fix it when you mess up.” Just fix it. Right then and there. Mess up. Then fix it. The relationship can bear it. There is more care in the fixing than in the perfection. And more breaking from the silence.

And the deeper, uglier truth is…I don’t know if I’m sharing this because I’m afraid of what my silence says about me. Saying something allows me to paint the image I want you to see – I care, I am a good person, see what I did? I said something. I don’t know if I’m a human who will ever do anything selflessly. I don’t know if those humans even exist.

And a third thing that I’ve told myself this week – that I should just donate to some charity and not tell anyone. Because then God in heaven will give me my, “You did it right” certificate when I pass over to the other realm. My silent deeds will show my righteousness and my humility – and that is the recipe of saints. 

But the truth is…the exact opposite of what I’ve been told my whole life. That actions without words are also meaningless. We all know someone who loved us with their whole beings but they never said IT out loud. They loved you in casseroles and sunscreen and paying for your college tuition, but they never told you that they loved you. Even when you said it to them. And then you wondered for the rest of your life, did they even really love me at all?

And the deeper, uglier truth is…I could put actions and words together but I’d still come up short. Not a reason to stay frozen in inaction but it is not just me who needs to move. It’s the whole collective silence that needs to begin screaming and shaking our fists. But we have been told our whole lives that good (white) girls and good (white) boys sit still and raise their hands and say excuse me and please and thank you. The white boys aren’t quite so good at this, it seems.

So how does one scream from a place of paralyzed fear? 

Well, in my case, you hem and haw, and waste too many days trying to figure out how to even whisper. 

And then you get your act together, and ignore your children for a while, and you begin to write – because that’s the only voice you know how to use. Safe, serving you probably more than others. But it’s a start.

And then you say – I’m sorry. I know it doesn’t mean a damn thing but I am.

And then you say – I’m here. I know it doesn’t mean a damn thing but I am.

And then you try – THIS IS SO FUCKING OUTRAGEOUS AND UNACCEPTABLE AND I WANT TO HELP AND I DON’T KNOW HOW AND I’M SHAKING. And you know it doesn’t mean a damn thing but it is what comes to mind when your mind starts to scream. You know that this is only a small, tiny, fraction of the rage and anger and discomfort and raw distress that is happening in a community that you feel completely detached from.

And then, more quietly, you say – I love you. I don’t know you but I love you and I want to try my best. I want to listen. I want to learn. I want to unlearn. I want to get better within all these mistakes.

Black lives matter. People of color matter.

These are probably the wrong words. They are borrowed words and overused words and misplaced words and ambushed words. But they are some words to get started.

love flows forward

I guess I need to apologize. Either my prayers are super powerful or God decided to go big or go home. About two weeks ago, I prayed to the universe, begged really, that life would become simpler for me. I was spending two hours a day in the car (really like one hour and forty minutes but that’s a mouthful to say so I round up). Breakfast and after school snacks were consumed in the car in between screams and demands from the backseat. And when we got home, the kids were never hungry for dinner because they’d eaten their weight in goldfish crackers in the car. After our practically untouched supper, we’d play for a few minutes then off to bed. Rinse. Repeat. In between those two commutes, I’d bust my ass at work, never feeling caught up or prepared, relying entirely too much on my natural teaching instincts than the curriculum (this is just a fancy way of saying “making shit up”), putting out fires and trying not to have my own melt downs. Several times a day I’d stand on the edge of what was quite possibly the abyss of mental breakdown and I’d talk myself off or a good friend would take my hand and coax me back from the ledge. Breathing actually works. So does chocolate. 

And so I found myself standing in the shower on a Saturday afternoon (the shower is my naptime retreat and meditation room), head hung as the hot water flowed over my neck and I prayed to God to make my life simpler. To bring back joy and calm to my days. I want peace, I pleaded. 

Then March 12 happened. The day that hinges the before and after of this strange new world we are existing in right now. In the words of my four year old who likes to reprimand her father, I looked up at the sky and said, “You got a little carried away Mister…” 

This whole thing feels just absolutely apocalyptic. It makes me think of when I had Mila, in those days post-birth where everything slowed to a screeching halt. I’d sit for hours staring at this tiny human, my world totally upended, not knowing what was day and what was night. Drunk on sleep deprivation. Sore EVERYTHING. And I was alone with my thoughts. Vulnerable thoughts. World ending thoughts. I felt so tender and raw and prone to injury. My spirit and my body praying for rest and comfort. But after the shock and forces of inertia subsided, my soul finally caught up a bit and I grew used to my new world and rhythms. I was so stripped down bare and all those big planning-brain thoughts were replaced by presence in a life of strange smells and new noises and watching for signs of life in my tiny newborn.

But this time it’s a bit different. The train came to a stop again. I’m woozy from inertia. Everyday is unknown. But there’s no book that tells me what to expect or a wealth of wise humans who have gone through it to say, “This is how it will go and you will be fine.” We try to make sense of it using our experiences. Our experiences tell us there are two kinds of people in the world. The helpers whose lives are driven by love and the liars/cheats, whose lives are driven by selfishness. But we have a bad feeling about this categorization because we know that humans are more complicated than this. We’ve seen this same darkness in our own souls when driven out of our comfort zones. We make decisions based on the immediate survival of our families and ourselves. And this thought scares us.

I felt this drive when I had to email my daycare provider and put in our 30 days notice. I knew that this decision would possibly affect their business long term. It wasn’t the big company I was worried about. It was my dear Dora and Adriana and Vero and Abby and Alicia and Aurora and Leticia and Maria. These women who have been stand-in mothers or grandmothers or tias to my two little children. They have patted their backs to sleep and changed their diapers and fixed their boo boos. They spend more time with my children during the school year than I do. And I had to tell them that because of the nature of this beast we are fighting, the big invisible unknown, that we had to pull our kids before we got locked in to paying for another 30 days of care we wouldn’t be using. Tears streamed down my cheeks when I hit send. My children didn’t get to say goodbye.

For the most part though, they never know what day it is anyway. Mila asks in the morning, “Is it a stay with mama day?” and I tell her yes and she accepts this and moves on. She trusts me that I know what I’m doing. Perhaps that is a lesson we could all learn. Just taking it day by day. Asking the Universe, “What do you have for us today? Stay home? Ok.”

I’ve been doing a bit more reading – but to be honest, my time for reading has been limited. I can read before the kids get up and so far that’s it. Naptime has been given to preparing insufficient things to post online for my students. The other day I posted a community circle and asked kids to record themselves. They all said, “I miss you Mrs. Hogan” and my heart broke and was mended all in one fell swoop. I miss them too. I didn’t realize how much until I heard them speak, their squeaky voices reminding me that I look forward to our morning hugs too.

I try to sort out exactly what I’m afraid of. I guess there’s the immediate fears of my loved ones getting sick and dying. But then there’s big, conspiracy theorist fears of being lied to by our president and martial law and the slimy rich snakes that I’ve demonized in my mind. I’m afraid of losing my pay and benefits. I’m afraid of Mike losing the big contract he had JUST gotten for work. I’m afraid of running out of milk. I’m afraid of losing all our money and our house. And heaven help me if something happens to our hot water heater. I love my showers so much. My showers are the only thing keeping me sane right now.

But the truth of it all is that I’m mostly afraid of my mortality. This big uncertain beast is just a metaphor for the great unknown on the other side of death. I’ve feared death since I was a little girl. I’ve never accepted the concepts of heaven or reincarnation. The only KNOWN I have is the nothingness that was before I existed. This is enough to make me sick from panic. I don’t want to go into nothingness again. I know the logical person would say, “well you won’t have consciousness to even care” but I like existing. I like being alive. I don’t even mind it with a little suffering. Because suffering is a journey to something new. If you could prove to me that there is something on the other side that allows for my consciousness and existence then great. But there is no way of knowing. The only thing I know is that before I was born, there was nothing. So the only conclusion I can draw is that when this life is done, nothing is what we return to. Which freaks me the F*** out. 

And that’s how my brain has been working lately. One second I’m talking about making sure we have hamburger in the freezer and the next I’m staring down death’s inevitable barrel.

Anyway, I said I’ve been doing a bit of reading. I picked out a book from a box in my closet that I didn’t finish from nearly six years ago. “The Gifts of Imperfection” by my guru Brene Brown. It talks about following guideposts for Wholehearted Living. At the end of the chapter about Faith and Intuition, she quotes another one of my gurus Anne Lamott. She says, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty.” And this hit me right between the eyes. The thing I need to tap into is faith. But how can I have faith when all I actually believe in is nothingness. It’s hardly inspirational or even remotely helpful.

A couple weeks ago on NPR there was a judge who was recently appointed to the Oregon supreme court. I have searched and searched for this clip but have not been able to find it. At the end of her interview she said something along the lines of, I have radical faith in the idea that God, or the Universe, or the world is made up of loving people and that we are moving towards good in our world. Or something like that. I can’t stop thinking about it. That it takes radical faith to believe in love and good. And if faith is simply the opposite of certainty, this is exactly what I have A LOT of right now. Faith fills the void left by uncertainty. Like air, or dirt, or light – whatever is needed in that particular space. 

It’s so easy to take all of this so personally. To think that it’s happening to ME rather than all of us. But if we are really honest with ourselves, none of us mattered all that much to the great big world anyway. These germs don’t care who their host is. The earth and life is going to move forward, following its own laws and patterns, regardless of whether that feels comfortable for any of us humans. But the difference is that the universe or love or God or whatever you call that force that drives us to care and do good also flows forward. Which at times is counterintuitive to the drive to preserve ourselves individually, creating a supernatural and miraculous current. It’s a resource that multiplies rather than depletes. It’s contagious (though using a contagion metaphor here seems a little weird). 

So…sorry? I know it doesn’t really feel like a time to joke or make light. Especially when our heroes in scrubs and (dear Lord, PLEASE) protective masks are on the front lines of battle. But I think a lot of us are in that space of giggling nervously because we don’t know how to make sense of any of this. “Laugh or cry,” as we say in the staff room at school some days (ok, most days). We had grown so used to our lives, even though we cursed them. We were too distracted or numbed, depending on the time of day, to really feel what it means to be here living on this earth. That’s why we text at stop lights and drink a glass of wine after the kids go to bed – because it’s better than sitting still with nothingness, with all our cracks and divots that need filling. 

Here we are, all in this together, our vulnerable insides exposed. In a good moment, I have been trying to walk the tightrope of logic and pragmatics. But none of this comes natural to me – I’m Queen Henny Penny and didn’t need any help with my worries about the sky falling. I’m steadying myself with real connections (not just scrolling) with others, long and grounded hugs from my husband, and trying to get really still and quiet whenever possible. And repeating to myself over and over, 

Love flows forward toward good.
Love flows forward toward good.
Love flows forward toward good.

enjoy every minute

A few days ago, I sat in the teal colored arm chair that is positioned by the door in the kids’ room. The chair doesn’t rock or glide but bounces a bit and makes a creaking noise that’s neither comforting nor annoying enough to fix. It has sufficed as a rocker for my babies, better than the Ikea one we had purchased for that purpose because its arms are softish for when they get too tall and their head rests simultaneously in the crook of your elbow and on the arm of the chair. 

The baby, who is no longer a baby but a toddler even though I refuse to call him that, was banging his head against said chair arm and pulling at my shirt asking for milk. Demanding it really. His mouth stretched open revealing six razor sharp teeth and let out a scream that no longer caused my milk to let down but rather elicited fear. This baby is much more sinister than my girl was, terrorizing me with the upturn of a smile while he holds my nipple between his gums. He laughs at me when he bites and unless he wasn’t otherwise the sweetest human on the planet, I’d be convinced he might someday be a serial killer or maybe a dentist.

Meanwhile, the toddler, who is no longer a toddler but a little girl even though I refuse to call her that, stood in front of us and screamed at a similar octave. She was stamping her foot and whining about shoes not fitting or wanting real live fairy wings or a dress that wasn’t twirly enough. I can’t remember. I tried to conjure the right empathetic response but the symphony of screams caused my eyes to twitch. My stomach was swirling with a combination of anxiousness, too much caffeine, and low blood sugar. 

It was 4:58 p.m. The witching hour was upon us – but they don’t tell you that you are the one that becomes the witch. I closed my eyes and tried to breath. 

“Enjoy every minute. It goes so fast.”

The advice from dear friends and family and strangers, always shared with such good intention, echoed in my ears. Their words hung crooked like a too-big-for-me crown over my greasy, unkempt hair. How can I enjoy this minute? Is something wrong with me? I must not be doing it right… 

Later on, as I drove across town and had a few minutes to think because my children were strapped in tight to carseats in the back, I thought about a conversation I had with a friend earlier that week. We were talking about a season in her life when a family member had lived with her. Many phone calls and texts were riddled with complaints of dirty dishes, broken appliances, and a general feeling of being taken for granted. She counted down the days till they moved out. But then, in the span of a few years, suddenly she didn’t talk so desperately about this part of her life. She spoke of missing their company and of feeling “blessed” to have had that time with them.

And that’s when I realized, we as humans are professional editors of the past. We judge the overall merit of a situation (a pathological liar as a boyfriend – BAD, a relatively complicated pregnancy that ended in a beautiful baby – GOOD) and then we go ahead and remove all the memories that would suggest otherwise. Suddenly we find ourselves reflecting in feathery awe about an experience that was downright torturous at times and we miss it.

This is parenthood.

“GOOD,” we deem it as we look back. And it is. Having kids is so good. The love I feel for these humans is like a lightning bolt that shoots through my core sometimes. And I really like them too. They are so funny and creative in ever-surprising ways. I have little best friends – except I also have to wipe their butts.

Yet the truth is, by most standard measures of happiness – financial, independence, emotional balance – kids have an incredibly negative impact. It is so f-ing hard a lot of the time. Like Ninja Warrior hard some days. No human should ever be expected to “enjoy” parts that just aren’t enjoyable. But in the darkness, I hear the whispers of shame. They tell me that because I am not having fun or feeling blissed out on the smell of my baby’s head, then I’m a bad mother. 

So what do I wish people would say to me instead of, “Enjoy every minute”? I’m not sure. I suppose this isn’t as much an admonishment to those who say it as it is an encouragement to those who are in the thick of it. I know I will miss this season of life. I will call it GOOD and I will remember mostly beauty. I will wish I had savored the time, as if this act in the past would somehow stave off the chill of quiet rooms and adult-sized problems rather than shoe problems and twirly dress problems.

But perhaps in addition to reminding us to tattoo the good moments on our hearts, we should also meet each other with a heaping dose of empathetic realism. So that in those hard moments, instead of draping shame over our shoulders, maybe we’ll try to give ourselves grace. Yes, this is hard. It’s ok to not like this. This really sucks. And in the in-between moments, those that are often forgotten due to monotony and the mundane, the ones that slip so easily into tantrums and yelling even though you vowed not to be a yelling-kind of parent, let’s try to be present and open to the possibility of laughter and hugs and playfulness. 

I wish I could offer you a new inspirational mantra, wrapped up in a pretty bow. One that says, There, now everything is going to be ok. Something to have echo in your mind when the witching hour begins to transform you into the Disney-villain version of yourself. One I’ve been seeing a lot lately says, “I can do hard things.” But, this is hardly helpful! It makes me feel like maybe I’m not already doing hard things. And I’m just so tired, I don’t want to do anything harder! My mother once told me that my great grandmother used to say, “Chin up!” which strengthens me a bit, as if I am being encouraged by a lineage of tough-cookie women to press on. But it also seems to have a little unspoken subtext of “quit complaining” that comes with it.

I guess, for today, I prefer to wrap myself up in the gentler words of Mary Oliver…

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

Be kind to yourself today. Heap on grace as if it’s a third spoonful of pillowy whipped cream. And don’t feel bad about it.

packing it up

I started packing our home in a nesting rampage two months before Michael was born. It was spring break and we had just gone to look at a house that we couldn’t make an offer on because ours was just not ready to sell. So I did what I do best. I made a spreadsheet and on it, I listed every room in the house and the to-do’s for each.

There were two items that my seven month pregnant body could accomplish: pack and clean. And I did. Like a madwoman. At the end of my hormone induced purge, I had a fortress of bags for Goodwill and another fortress of boxes stacked in my garage. One month later, the possibility of squeezing a home purchase in before baby came dissipated. So we tabled it for later.

The second sweep of my house came last Christmas. I wanted to take advantage of the time off to pack up the rest of the things we didn’t need every day. And since I still had to pay for daycare, I could send the kids and not feel that guilty about it. I put everything in a box that I wouldn’t need for a few months. I also binge watched all eight episodes of Tidying Up after which, I Marie Kondo’d the shit out of every room. Let me tell you, there was a very special magic in organizing my husband’s bullet and knife collection. I think Marie would have been proud.

In my first attempt at packing and purging, I was more like a tasmanian devil, impulsively and insensitively clearing out drawers, shoving item after item into bags without much thought. But this last time, I put all my things in a pile and then held each thing to ask if it brings me joy or serves an important purpose just like Marie taught me. And when no one was looking, I knelt on the ground and talked to my house just like she does, thanking it for being our home. It was hippy dippy but hey, I’d been talking to the ghosts in there, so might as well chat with the floorboards too.

After I had cleared out each room to the bare bones, I stood and stared at yet another fortress of donation bags and packed up boxes. So much stuff. Probably thousands of dollars of stuff. Most of my rooms have had several iterations of curtains and art on the wall, nicknacks and attempts at making it look a specific way. The sheer number of picture frames that I donated was obscene.

I recognize that there are trends and styles that come and go. The color palate of 2010 is quite different than that of 2019. And Joanna Gaines has not helped in the matter by bringing her particular sense of style to an overpriced section of Target for me to drool over and wonder if the swath of fake goldenrod flowers will be JUST what I need to make me a different person and finally have thick, smooth black hair and skin that tans up nicely in the sun instead of burning and freckling. But it all makes me wonder what the heck I have been trying to accomplish these past few years in accumulating all this stuff?

The nice thing about moving is that it put a temporary halt on my never-ending efforts to make things “just right”. I knew my realtor Lorrie was going to bring a box full of treasures right before we listed our house and those things would make it look “just right” to the potential buyer. My vision was no longer necessary. It needed to be neutral and clean and simple. It waswa small blessing, those handcuffs of “wait, don’t buy that for a house you are moving out of.” I don’t want to forget the feel of them on my wrists as I move into the new place and start trying to transform myself again by way of drapes and trinkets and art.

In Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, she talks in the end about moving out of the White House after eight years. While I am clearly not in the same world as the First Lady of the United States with butlers and chefs and a Chief of Staff, her thoughts on transitioning from one home to another resonated with me. She says, “You’re left in many ways to find yourself all over again.” I wonder if, while building our home over the past ten years (the concept and feel, not necessarily the posts and beams) had been guided more by a need to change who I am rather than to find myself.

Many of the things I’ve chosen to keep are all reminders of who I have become. A small white mug that is trimmed in gold with yellow flowers on it, holds my pens on my desk. This was from Grandma Willson’s house and my sister sent it to me after she passed away. There’s also a painting of three women, each with skirts the colors of jewels. I haggled over it for months with a gentleman who was selling art on a beach in Durban, South Africa. “You won’t be back,” he said each time, wagging his finger at me. “Oh yes I will,” I cajoled in return. And I was, each week until the very last weekend when he finally gave me a better price. He wasn’t super happy about the ordeal.

When I pared it all down into piles of keep or discard, my truth began to emerge. Hopefully this new journey ahead of me will also be one of self-discovery. In the same way that I will learn the nooks and crannies, the idiosyncrasies and beauty of a new home, I hope to learn more about those elements of myself. Ahead of me is an opportunity to set new rhythms and to fill the spaces with colors and expressions of who we are and what we value. Rupi Kaur says we must stop searching for home in others and lift the foundations of the home within ourselves.

Yesterday afternoon, taking a break from packing it all up, I sat on the floor of our bedroom. Now empty, I looked around at it’s echoey vastness. I had slept in that room for ten years but I never had the vantage point of that moment before. At first, there was so much imperfection that caught my eye. A floor vent that didn’t quite fit, dust and fur in every corner, the faint hint of old lady smell in the air. But then I noticed the light coming through the window. It was exactly right and beautiful. And isn’t this the truth of life as well? So much fixing to be done, but the light is everywhere, making people and places feel like home.


I dreamt last night of cougars. Someone dragged two of them, hunted but not fully dead, into my current home (which is no longer my home) and dropped them by the large gray couch in our living room. They lay there with tails twitching, giant paws and thick fur, their teeth bared and angry. Suddenly, they began to fight with each other and I tried my best to keep them apart, but my hands kept getting precariously close to their giant teeth and claws. I kept looking up at the window, wondering when Mike would come home to help. I was alone, wishing for a gun and also the knowledge of how to use it.

Google tells me that to dream of big cats is a sign of your power and femininity. Sure, I suppose it could be that, my subconscious trying to remind myself that I am made up of my strength rather than my fear. But it could also simply be literal – that I’m terrified of encountering an actual cougar on the new property we are moving to. Because apparently there have been six cougar sightings on the property over the past eight years. Mike didn’t want me to know this information and reluctantly shared it with me the other night. My reaction was dramatic and panicked. I yelled out, “What? No! No! No!!!!”

I don’t know why I signed up to basically live on a savage savannah. This seems ludicrous. My children will now be layered in bells before they go outside. I will learn how to shoot a gun. I think I much prefer my drug deals across the street and the comfort of sirens in the neighborhood. I understand this. Drug dealers are just minding their own business, making ends meet. I suppose you could say the same for cougars too.

My fear is usually a small balloon that grows and deflates in my tummy, but lately it has expanded beyond me. I’m inside it, looking out. “Everything is going to be ok!” my village says to me from the outside. I cup my hand to my ear, “I’m sorry, what? I can’t hear you from in here!” There is so much unknown. The move, my job, what the president will do next, whether shoes will be rejected this morning by the three year old.

I watch my heartbeat and sleep patterns on my Fitbit, the charts resembling a mountain range or a roller coaster, both apt metaphors depending on the moment. I breathe in and out, trying to return to calm. Mike and I try to remember to stop and give each other long hugs, Mila squeezing between us like I used to do with my parents. We all try our best. Meanwhile the cougars are brawling, our fear and strength head to head, trying to claim dominance.

I forget so quickly how every up and down and detour my life has taken has led to precise and serendipitous details of blessing. Most of these, in the form of people who I was meant to know. My mother, my siblings, my husband, my in-laws, my best friends, my children. Chromosomes zippered, seats were assigned, resumes were read. I once overheard someone once say, “All we need is each other…and snacks.” This is probably the truest thing that I know.

Mila just came out of the bedroom and climbed into my lap. She was holding a little magazine for kids that Auntie Meg got her a subscription to. There was a tiger on the front and Mila says to me, “I don’t like Tigers. They are scary.”

I asked her, “What do you do when you are scared?”

And she simply replied, “Say hello.”

Well good morning little Dalai Lama, nice of you to join me this morning.

This idea, of simply saying hello to your fear, is exactly what I’ve been reading about in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. She has made peace that fear is always going to be a passenger on the ride and that to not feel it would be un-human. She tells us to write fear a letter, acknowledging its presence but firmly reminding it that it won’t be driving the tour bus. And let’s not forget that along with fear rides our strength. It depends on us as to which one we let take the wheel.

So I guess, for today, I will try to simply say hello.

Hello fear, I see you. Get in and let’s go. And try not to be a backseat driver.

the dark ages

I’ve been living in the dark ages for exactly four and a half days. And by the dark ages, I mean I haven’t had a cell phone but I’ve had the internet and a computer and TV and electricity and a magical box that cooks food in like 30 seconds. So not at all the dark ages. But still…no cell phone!

There are some logistical issues like not having a landline in case of emergencies at the house. But mostly Mike is here and also we are surrounded by hundreds of neighbors who likely have a phone to call 911 on. My brain plays the “what if” game and the only real issue I land on is, “What if I can’t leave my house to ask for help?” Well, it’s likely if I’m incapacitated to the point that I can’t leave my house then I probably can’t get to a hypothetical landline in my house either. So…I believe I’ll be just fine.

The very fact that this has been somewhat hard for me makes me so embarrassed. One thing I’ve noticed is that I seek connection A LOT. Like every 10-15 seconds my hands and brain have this impulse to either look at something or read something or talk to something. Often times, there are humans right in front of me with whom I could easily connect. But these humans are usually my nine month old and three and a half year old so I am also realizing my desire to connect is actually a desire to escape from being present.

My counselor said that it’s not healthy to always think about the past or to think about the future. These mind habits of ruminating and worrying are like leaving the door wide open for anxiety to waltz in and take over. But if you stay present, even the simplest act of noticing what you are seeing/hearing/feeling right now can slam that door shut. Because all the things of the present are fixable. Got an itch? Scratch it. Hungry? Feed yourself. Dirty dishes in the sink? Clean them or let them be. Feeling lonely? Find someone to chat with or hug for at least 20 seconds, so it releases some endorphins.

This is all so much easier said than done. But take that phone out of your hand and you are well on your way. There are no pictures to make you wish your bathroom was a different shade of greige, no comment that makes you wonder if you are good enough. It’s just you, with your butt planted in a chair or your feet on the ground and the world waiting to be noticed. It’s uncomfortable if you haven’t had to be bored in a while. It’s excruciating when you are waiting to be seen by the doctor and every single human around you is staring at a phone.

A less shameful noticing brought on by this five day inconvenience is that I miss having a camera at my fingertips. There are so many moments that I want to capture and never forget. But lately, even when I did have my phone, I’ve been trying to see if I can just let moments be without trying to get my phone out and documenting it. Can I enjoy and notice the beauty of my kid sleeping without it forever being archived on “the Cloud”?  It’s like a tree falling in the woods situation around here. Did anything wondrous even really happen?

I’ve been reading a lot more. It’s funny how I say I don’t have any time to read. I guess I need to change that. I have time to read, I just don’t want to choose that activity over scrolling on my phone and watching TV in bed. I fished out my little book light, which miraculously has not been packed away at this point, and while I nurse Michael to sleep, I read. And as I lay in bed, unable to Chromecast Hulu or Netflix on my bedroom TV anymore, I read. And you know what? Reading begets reading. Now I want to read more because I’m halfway through a book and need to know what happens to Anne Lamott in India.

This isn’t the first time I’ve taken a little technology break. Last January, I did a “rest retreat” from social media using the guidance of a woman who writes a blog called Home Song. She challenged her readers to go thirty days without using social media and instead, do some heart work around resetting your rhythms and intentions. It was SO good and SO hard. One thing I noticed immediately was one of my “rhythms” (which is just a gentler way of saying “habits”) was scrolling when I wake up. To begin, I start by checking the time on my phone, then the light wakes up my brain. Next, I start searching each of the usual suspects – Facebook, then Instagram, then NPR for some news. Anything. This habit formed, or maybe more accurately, wrapped its tentacles around me, when the current president took office. I found myself, every morning, refreshing my feed and searching news headlines to see what happened while I slept. Mostly I was hoping to find words like impeachment or indictment or oops, we’ve made a grave mistake.

During the rest retreat of last year, I still had my physical phone. And so in some ways, I just replaced social media with other ways to scroll. Redfin, a handy little real estate app, was one way. I searched for homes every spare second I had. And Pinterest got another whirl from me, finding the perfect way to stage my new bathroom shelves and dreaming of a hairstyle that would suggest I’m not actually caught in a small twister on the way to work.

Today, my phone is set to arrive by mail. What do I do with this new awareness? It’s no good for my Henny Penny heart. I wonder if there’s any turning back for us as a species? I mean, sooner or later, the generation that can remember life before cell phones will be extinct. Is this how our grandparents felt? Was the world sure to end because people now had a new fangled television in their house? Left alone with my thoughts too long, I find myself exclaiming like King Solomon, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” Maybe he had recently taken a rest retreat himself when writing Ecclesiastes.

I’m saying a little prayer now for myself (because I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands to watch people and I’m pretty sure everyone else is doomed…) Please, please, please don’t let this knowledge be erased by the addictive cycle of scroll – veg out – scroll more – repeat!

saying goodbye

I’ve been trying to process the huge life event that’s upon us. We will be moving out of our current home to a new place in anywhere from five to seventeen days. The lack of particulars in this big change have been sending my color-coded-over-planning heart into panicky flutters throughout the day. I’m steadying myself with king size Butterfingers, chats with friends, and asking one million questions to our ever-available and amazing realtors Randy and Lorrie.

My counselor reminded me the other day that leaving a home is much like the grieving process. I don’t know what step I’m on right now but I’ve been doing a lot of weepy reflection. Is this the depression stage? It’s not that I want to keep this house over the new one. But I am caught in a space between letting go of our first true home, one that we have (ok, mostly Mike has) put blood, sweat and tears into and planning for a new one that will require an accepting heart of come as you are.

As I look through pictures, I’m struck by how these spaces hold our precious memories. It’s been the setting of so many of our stories. So in an act of saying farewell, I thought I’d gather some pictures to look upon the spaces that have held us. A celebration of life, I suppose.

We bought this house almost ten years ago. It was a 1970s museum, previously owned by an elderly couple named Agnes and Harold Frasier. Harold left a literal treasure chest full of his cuff links, coins, and blingy rings in the attic. He must have been a dapper man. And Agnes, well, she left her mark on every room with layers upon layers of drapery and valences and an old lady smell that still escapes from the original cupboards sometimes. Even though I’m not super convinced of the existence of ghosts, I’m pretty sure that Agnes is still present here. Over the years, I believe we’ve made peace with her over changing the home that she so painstakingly designed. I’ve also developed a little story that she didn’t have any grandchildren, so I invited her to watch over my kids. It’s creepy and weird but how I’ve decided to deal with the possibility of her haunting. That, and I don’t look in reflective surfaces when I’m home alone.

I walked into this house with visions of changing everything. And I nearly succeeded, leaving every room at least slightly remodeled. I’m really good at demolition, at purging and destroying. But building and redesign aren’t my strength. So we lived nearly ten years in a three-quarter renovated house. I don’t recommend this and hope it’s not the story of our new place.

I know a house is just a physical structure. Four walls and a roof. But our home has been a place of inexplicable beauty and joy. From our neighbor Minh, who brings us pears each summer, to the delight of a toddler seeing her first snowfall. This place has offered us discovery and promise and actual rainbows.

It has also been a place of grief, where we lost two small flickers of life. It holds the yellow linoleum floor that I lay face down on and screamed out “No!” when I began to bleed. It’s where the toilet flushed and my heart broke into a million pieces.

This is my favorite tree, the crab apple tree, that Mikey wanted to cut down. This is because it’s overgrown and, after a week or two of the most glorious fuchsia blooms, it covers our yard in dead, pinkish-white petals like an early winter snow in Michigan. It reminds me of the tree I had in my yard growing up. I climbed that tree religiously each summer, getting braver and braver with every high branch I conquered. I also fell out of it once, hanging upside down with my heal stuck in the crotch of one of its branches and landing on my head when I yanked it free. I told Mike that he can’t cut this tree down because I want to climb it. “When will you ever climb it?” he asked. “Right now,” I replied and, in a silly act of obstinance, I went and climbed in it. I have climbed it a few more times over the years, but only to save it from Mike’s chainsaw like a Green Peace activist.

Our home has been a new beginnings place. Where I labored in the early hours of birth, the place to which we brought our babies home from the hospital, and where a permanent trench formed on my side of the bed while I healed in the postpartum weeks.

This is our yard, a very stubborn yard, that we’ve toiled in for days on end to bring out its beauty. In spite of my uncanny ability to kill plants, some have thrived reminding me that some living things are just plain bad ass and resilient. A good metaphor for life.

The windowsill in the kitchen has the very best light in the house. This room was built by my hard-working hubby and it’s the place where I’ve shown my love through cookies and soups and hundreds of roast chickens over the years. And for a while, the sink was the only bathtub Mila ever knew.

Here is the infamous bathroom, the one that finally came to fruition after several patient years. Michael’s face says exactly how I felt when it was completed.

These are the bedrooms where we do a lot of not sleeping. The beds will go but the walls will remain, holding someone new while they snuggle or play or dream.

These dirty dirty floors have been swept one million times. I have the sounds of everyone’s footsteps memorized, including the clicking of the dogs’ nails and the terrifying tread of toddler feet, which is alarmingly loud in the middle of the night. We’ve danced and we’ve stomped on them, scratched them and some of us have even peed on them.

And soon, we will offer up this house to someone else to grow and love and build in. I hope that I will greet our new home with the same reflective understanding that I leave this one.